Are trade shows worth the effort or a waste of resources?

Depending on your strategy going into a trade show, the answer to that question will vary. No matter the circumstances, one thing is true: trade show exhibits shouldn’t be undertaken “just because.” They can be costly and require a time-consuming preparation process.

Just as with any business or marketing strategy, you should enter a trade show with specific objectives in mind, a plan detailing how those objectives will be met, and a way to measure the effectiveness of your exhibit.

Here are some tips to make your trade show exhibit more successful and more worth your investment.

1) Set Goals. Whether your goal of exhibiting at a trade show is to find new business leads or to increase your brand recognition, you should go into a trade show with at least one measurable objective for improving your business.

2) Prepare. Let potential customers and connections know you’ll be exhibiting. When you get there, know what you’re talking about, and be prepared with materials that emphasize your strengths and adhere to your marketing strategy. Offer a way for attendees to follow up with you, and make sure you have a plan to collect their contact information. Create promotional materials and incentives for attendees to stop at your exhibit.

3) Be Consistent. Your marketing strategy should be evident in all of your communications – oral, visual, and digital – and promotional materials before, during, and after the show. Don’t confuse people with mixed messages.

4) Be Informative and Dynamic. In talking with trade show attendees, hold discussions that are meaningful, educational, and interesting. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the topics you anticipate discussing but don’t sound rehearsed. Emphasize how your business can address unmet needs, but don’t come off sounding like a used car salesman.

5) Follow Up. E-mail your leads as soon as possible. Send a personalized message to say you enjoyed meeting them, and recap your conversation, if you can remember it. Don’t make it a sales pitch. In subsequent messages, consider providing them with helpful information and relevant resources.

6) Measure. You remember those objectives? This is where you gauge how well you met them. There are many ways to measure, and what you measure will depend on your objectives. You can click-through rates on follow-up e-mails, new sales generated from trade show leads, and many other options. Consider administering a brief survey at your exhibit in exchange for incentives – this also could help you collect contact information.

No matter what your business goals or marketing strategy, you should have a pretty good reason to believe that exhibiting at a trade show is a solid investment. Measuring your past efforts is one way to determine what worked, what didn’t, and if the benefits of exhibiting outweighed the costs in both time and money.